Recognising Numbers at 20 Months Old

Our boy can count and read/recognize numbers at 20 months old, and this I feel is quite advanced for his age. His favourite thing to do now at shopping malls is to point out to the large labels with numbers in them and shout out the numbers as he points. Here is a video of him at the carpark.

Yes we are teachers, and specifically my husband is a Mathematics teacher. However, we do not force our boy to learn numbers at such a young age. We tried flash cards when he was 3 months old but lazy us only did it with him about 1-2 times a week before we gave up by the time he turned 4 months old. We believe in learning through play and learning through experiences, in molding his social and interaction skills and character, in allowing him to do things that make him happy. He has been going to child care since 18 months old but they don’t teach him numbers or alphabets either. So how did our boy manage to be able to read at such a young age? We were pleasantly surprised but thought back at what we did that could have made that impact in his little brain. These ideas are useful to exposing the little ones to numbers and letters but remember, it is really not important for them to know these at this age. These activities can also be done and preferably done so, when the child is older of about pre-nursery or nursery age of about 3-4.

1. Count when you are going up the lift
Since he was little, we will occasionally count the numbers in the lift as shown on the LED screen as the lift goes up/down. It helps that we stay on the 10th floor. 10 numbers is not to little and not too many. By occasionally, I mean about once out of every 10 times up/down the lift. Of course when there are people sharing the lift with us we do not count out loud for our baby. At about 18 months, he surprised us by saying 10, when we reached the number 10, and 1, when we reached the ground floor. Since then, we counted more often as we saw he was very interested with the blinking numbers.

2. Encourage, do not force.
We remind again, learning numbers and the alphabet should not be a priority at this age. So do not force it down their throats. If they show interested, good! Its a bonus! If they don’t, nothing to worry about! When we noticed he could say 1 and 10, we would clap and say “yay!” or “well done!”or “clever boy!”. As we counted more often in the lift, (we will still only count when we are alone in the lift), he picked up more numbers like 2, 5, and 8. He is not interested in the numbers all the time when we are in the lift. We take his cue. When he looks up at the numbers, we will count for him. When he doesn’t, we won’t. They do not need to learn how to count at this age anyway. If they do, it’s a bonus.

3. Transfer the Learning.
He was really good with numbers 1, 2, 5, 8 and 10. That’s all he could count. He will practice when he wakes up by reciting “2, 5, 8, 1”. That humoured us quite a bit. Once we were at a carpark, he pointed and shouted “2”! That was when we realised he not only could count (a little), he could recognise the numbers! We proceeded to point out all the number 2s when we see them. And it became a game for him when we were outside. Later on he picked up 5 and 8 as well. And subsequently other numbers. He read large price labels on sale items, counter numbers, people’s jersey numbers, etc. Our playmat at home has some numbers too and we will get him to look for the numbers for us.

One example of a jersey he pointed to an shouted "5"!

One example of a jersey he pointed to an shouted “5”!

4. Reinforce the Learning
When visiting the library, we will borrow a few books on numbers. He likes to read them at home as he knows what he is reading, and of course he gets a lot of praise from us. On top of that, when he is drawing(or rather scribbling), he will get us to write the numbers for him and we will oblige. He has toys that count as well that he has been playing since 6 months old but now are more meaningful when he plays them. A few of these are Fisher Price toys.

An example of a toy he used to play with but is much more meaningful now.

An example of a toy he used to play with but is much more meaningful now.

5. Repeat and Repeat.
When he could count and read and recognize 1-10, he still could not say “Seven”, probably because it was the only number with 2 syllabus. When he comes to seven, we will help him with it. Now, at 20 months old, he mumbles a “seven” when we show him the number 7 and ask him what it is.

Other ideas:
This portion is from friends who are encouraging their toddlers to count. You could buy number magnets and let them play with them on the fridge. Or introduce blocks/toys with numbers. Some common ones are bath toys. Number charts can be a good investment too, or you can make your own! IPad/TV? I personally don’t like this but I know kids who have learnt a lot from these devices. Do you have anymore suggestions? Comment below!

All these suggestions are applicable to learning alphabets as well. (except for the lift portion. You can replace it with the “ABC” song though) However, I think numbers are easier to start off with as there are only 10 different numbers whereas there are 26 different letters in the alphabets!

Remember, at this age, learning should be fun. Do not do drill and practise now! Do not make them detest learning if not you will have a hard time later on when they start schooling. They will learn when they are ready. Playing, interacting and exposing them to different things and experiences are more important now. Have fun!


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